The oldest Test cricketer alive?
If he is still alive - and this is a very big if - then Cota Ramaswami, who was born on this day in 1896, will easily be, at 104, the oldest living Test cricketer. The doubt remains because he has not been heard of or seen since he walked out of his house in Chennai one day in 1985, at the age of 89. A little over a year before that, I had interviewed him for the sports magazine I then represented. He spoke fairly clearly, considering his age and except for a hearing aid did not seem to have any health problems. He remembered quite a few things about his playing days and could recall a lot about when he was manager of the first Indian team to the West Indies in 1953 and when he was a national selector in the late fifties. On occasions, he faltered while trying to remember a person or a particular detail of an event and had to be prodded. But he was standing tall and erect as I took leave of him and there was certainly no indication of any kind of problem which would force him to just walk out of the house not long after that interview took place.
Since that day, some 15 years ago, there has been no word about him though his family members tried frantically to find him and sent out police search parties. The unexpected happening was certainly unfortunate for Ramaswami was quite a character. Tall and sturdily built, his appearance was almost magnetic, as befitting the son of Buchi Babu Naidu, a pioneer of the game in Madras in the early years of the 20th century. Of course his claim to fame on his own was as one of the few double internationals in sport. In the 1920s he had represented India in the Davis Cup while studying in England and in 1936 he was selected to tour England with the Indian cricket team.
In his autobiography, `Ramblings of a games addict' Ramaswami claimed modestly that he was convinced he had been chosen `for reasons other than cricket' as he had become `bulky and slow.' But his performance on the tour suggested otherwise. For not only did he score 737 runs (average 30.70) in first class matches he also topped the Test averages, ahead of contemporaries like CK Nayudu, Vijay Merchant and Mushtaq Ali. He made his Test debut in the second Test at Old Trafford at the age of 40 years, 37 years, making him the second oldest Indian cricketer to play in his first Test. But he scored 40 and 60, knocks which helped India to draw the Test. This was of course the game in which Merchant and Mushtaq shared their famous first wicket stand of 203 runs. With two more valuable contributions of 29 and 41 not out in the final Test at the Oval, Ramaswami finished with 170 runs at the average of 56.66. That however remained the extent of his Test career but he remained a stalwart for Madras for many more years. In a first class career spanning 25 years, the left handed Ramaswami made 2261 runs (28.26) at a time when opportunities were very limited. A free stroking batsman with a particularly powerful drive on both sides of the wicket, Ramaswami played for the Hindus in the Bombay Quadrangular and Pentangular tournaments.
In later years, Ramaswami maintained his association with the game by managing the team to the West Indies in 1953. It proved to be one of the most popular sides to visit the Caribbean. In the late fifties, Ramaswami became a national selector but this tenure was not a very happy one and culminated in the fiasco of the 1958-59 series against West Indies, when four captains led India in five Tests and there was much bickering over the team selection and the poor performance of the home side. He continued to be a popular cricketer in Madras cricket circles till well into his 80s and was an engaging conversationalist. Since his death has never been confirmed, cricket annuals have for the last decade or so generally put against his details ``missing since 1985, presumed dead.'' But just in case he is alive...